Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11022

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (16:10): It is interesting listening to the member for Stirling. You would have thought those opposite had opposed our changes in 2007 but they did not oppose them in the Senate. The shadow minister at the time, Sharman Stone, supported them. The Liberal Party supported those changes.

Again, those opposite complain about the Malaysian transfer agreement but they refused to vote for it in this parliament. When that bill passed this House, they were running around this place offering amendments to other members, offering an increase in the humanitarian intake to 20,000—that subsequently became a recommendation of the Houston report—and now they are backing away from that. We had the member for Cook ask why we have not cooperated with the Sri Lankan navy to turn around boats on the high sea and then we had the member for Stirling come in and talk about the processing of Sri Lankan claimants. It is a very interesting catalogue of inconsistencies that the opposition bring up.

There are inconsistencies in this MPI. Those opposite talk about the full suite of policies. But in most of their MPI speeches they ignored the Houston report and its 22 recommendations. There was barely a mention of those recommendations. You hear government ministers talking about this report in great detail, going through it recommendation by recommendation. Indeed, the Labor Party and this government, the Gillard government, are the only people who are committed to the full implementation of those recommendations. The Greens are not committed; they want to cherry-pick the recommendations. The Liberals are not committed; they also want to cherry-pick the recommendations. The reason they want to cherry-pick the recommendations is they want the toxic debate that has gone on in this country for a decade to continue. The reason they want that is because they are interested in the politics of this issue and not in the policy. They have always been interested in politics and not in policy. That is why they are so inconsistent, so consistently inconsistent.

Day by day, week by week, we see the Liberals are desperate in the face of a fading primary vote that has been inflated over time by exaggeration and negativity—and that is all that was keeping it afloat—and they now are the subject of the public's considered judgement on that exaggeration and that negativity, and the air is slowly coming out of that balloon. The Leader of the Opposition is desperately floundering about half hiding and half seeking a new negative campaign to run. The member of the Cook just wants to reheat the old negative campaign, this old favourite of the Liberal Party, inconsistently nitpicking from day to day, undermining the government and the Australian national interest. That is why we see him out there—even though we have had the second plane land in Nauru and even though we have had offshore processing begin—day by day in the doorstops, in front of the cameras, basically nitpicking and seeking to send a different message than the Houston report sends or the government wants to send to people smugglers.

We know that this undermines the national interest, undermines the message of the Houston report, undermines parliamentary legislation and undermines the consistent message: do not come by boat, do not risk your life, do not pay a people smuggler. We know the terrible results of some of the accidents on the high sea. We have seen the terrible results. We know what is at stake: people's lives are at stake. We know the danger our ADF personnel put themselves in when trying to deal with this issue.

And yet the member for Cook is out still there, applying himself to this issue with only two political aims—not a policy aim but just political aims: votes for the Liberal Party—and his other hand firmly clasping his own leadership baton. We know that is what it is all about. It is about this sort of contest to replace Abbott at some point in the future. We know that it is all about getting his profile up. And he uses this terrible issue as an incense burner to his party's desperate desire for primary votes, its desperate thirst for office. He uses it as an incense burner to his own vanity—and what a dark vanity it is, that he would undermine the national interest in this way.

Mr Keenan: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Wakefield has strayed into deeply offensive territory and should be asked to withdraw.

Mr CHAMPION: There was nothing unparliamentary about it and nothing that was deeply offensive to the shadow minister for immigration.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): The member for Wakefield would assist the chamber if he would withdraw those comments. The member for Stirling has said they were deeply offensive, and it would assist—

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It would assist the chamber. As you would have heard during question time, the Deputy Speaker did ask a member to withdraw comments that may not always be considered unparliamentary or offensive.

Mr CHAMPION: Out of deference to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will happily withdraw. But it is deeply disappointing that we still see the opposition and the Greens playing politics with this issue. And we all know why they play politics with this issue and they want to throw bricks every day at the government. Then when someone calls them on it we have this chronic sensitivity about it. I do not think it is good enough. I know my constituents do not think it is good enough. They were certainly aghast when the opposition refused to vote for legislation that would have allowed the Malaysian transfer agreement, allowing offshore processing to begin six weeks earlier. Instead, they all went on the winter break.

The government is the only party in this parliament that is committed to implementing the Houston report's 22 recommendations. We have legislated to begin offshore processing and it has begun on Nauru. It is sending a message to people smugglers, to the people who might be tempted, might be desperate enough to pay a people smuggler: do not come by boat; do not risk your life. We are developing cooperative bilateral agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia and we are in the process of improving the Malaysian agreement along the lines advocated in the Houston report. And that will be the thing that strikes fear into the hearts of people smugglers and stops their business model.

But this is also being done with compassion in mind, and that is why we have increased the humanitarian intake to 20,000 places—and that is an important thing to do. If you are going to say to people that they should take the appropriate approach, that they should wait, that they should be assessed by the UNHCR, that they should not take a dangerous boat journey, then people should have some opportunity to start a life in Australia, if they are refugees.

The Gillard government is committed to resolving this problem, despite being frustrated by this parliament on numerous occasions, despite being frustrated in the other place, the Senate, by this Liberal-Greens 'noalition'—this marriage of convenience that is going on. They talk tougher on the Greens but they like preferencing them in Melbourne and they like doing deals with them in the Senate to frustrate the national interest.

Mr Ewen Jones interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: That is what happened. That is the way you voted. That is what is recorded in the Hansard—you voting with the Greens against offshore processing, against the Malaysian transfer agreement. That was the agreement that would have sent the strongest possible message to people smugglers, and you voted against it, to the disappointment of your own constituents. I have no doubt about that.

We believe in backing the Houston report recommendations, and we sincerely hope for bipartisan agreement on this, more than anything. We need to put an Australia-first position on this, to our region and to the people who would take advantage of legitimate refugee processing—the people smugglers, who do this to make money. They put people on dangerous voyages on dangerous boats, encourage people to risk their lives. That is their act. It is not a government or an opposition act; there are criminal networks in our regions that do this, and we want to see it stop and we want to see it stop as soon as possible. And we would beg the opposition just for a modicum of cooperation in this matter.